Just go already

People in the rest of Canada should realize that the separation of Quebec wouldn't be a disaster -- in fact, it could be very beneficial

Québec c. Canada - le Québec entravé

The current Quebec election campaign is the rerun of a film we have been watching, over and over, since we were children.

The Parti Quebecois promises a referendum on sovereignty if elected, and the Liberals use this threat to pry more concessions from the federal government. One or the other party wins -- it doesn't matter which -- and the process recommences.

For this election the concession the Liberals are demanding has to do with "fiscal imbalance," a newly discovered federal injustice that Ottawa must correct now, or the country could be lost. So it will probably be the Conservative budget of March 19 that determines the Quebec election.

This small example points to some of the many ways in which Quebec's political behaviour is harmful to the political life of our country, and has been weakening Canada for a long time.

I'm not blaming Quebecers for this situation. They have simply been acting in what they see as their own interests, always peacefully and lawfully; the system works for them and I see no reason why they would want to change a thing. But what they do is harmful to Canada, and I believe that it's time for Canadians to make some changes -- big ones.

I don't think it will be difficult to persuade you that Quebec's political behaviour is harmful to Canada. Here are just a few reminders:

• Quebecers consistently elect most of their members to the Canadian Parliament from the Bloc Quebecois, a party that has separation as its primary objective and whose representatives say openly that they have no interest in the welfare of any other part of our country. The Bloc has been in existence now for 16 years and it currently holds 50 of the 75 Quebec seats in the Canadian Parliament. It is clearly the most authentic voice of the Quebec people in Ottawa.

• In Quebec itself, a separatist party, which also rejects Canada, has been in power for 17 of the last 30 years. The Parti Quebecois is the only alternative to the Liberals, and if the PQ doesn't win this election we can be reasonably sure that it will win the next one.

• It has been demonstrated over and over again that francophone Quebecers, who make up 85 per cent of Quebec's population, think of themselves as Quebecers -- not as Canadians. Surveys indicate that one half of them feel no attachment whatsoever to Canada. And 60 per cent of those who do feel some attachment say it's only for the money, "because of the economic benefits that Canada provides."

• Quebec's political leaders, unanimously, say they will never accept and sign the Canadian Constitution until Quebec is given a special status in it that no other province could have.

• Quebecers insist that they are a separate "nation," a "distinct society" within Canada, and so have a right to membership in international organizations, separate from our Canadian representation; they say Canadian delegates are incapable of representing Quebecers in many international bodies.

• In the rest of Canada serious efforts have been made to increase the use of French. But in Quebec the English language, which is, after all, the language of most Canadians, has been progressively marginalized -- by language laws -- and by the disappearance of nearly all anglophone representation in the political life of the province.

• Both of Quebec's main provincial political parties constantly use the threat of separation to frighten Canadians into providing them with benefits that other provinces don't get. This is an established routine that works very well for Quebec and creates a sense of unfairness in the rest of the country. Dozens of efforts have been made by the rest of Canada over the past three decades to try to satisfy Quebec, without success.

When all the factors are added up it's easy to come to the conclusion that we are wasting our time with these people. However, the difficult question is: What can we do about it?

For years we have been paralysed by fear in our search for solutions. We are afraid that if we don't give Quebecers what they want they will leave, and we have been told, over and over again, that if they do leave it will be the end of Canada, that the rest of the country will break up. In our current mindset we are hostages, helpless. We are faced with the surreal situation in which reasonable people believe that it's Quebec that is holding our country together.

In a just-published update of my book, Time To Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada Without Quebec, I try to demonstrate that this disaster scenario is not inevitable, that, if Quebec leaves, Canada need not break up. The future of Canada does not depend on Quebec. We can -- we will -- have a very fine country here without them.

Once we understand that Canada without Quebec is a viable option, many things become possible. We discover that we have choices. We can do a sensible evaluation of the costs and benefits, for Canada, of each new demand from Quebec. When Quebec makes its next "or else" request for money or status we can ask, "What's in it for Canada?" Yes, we can ask for concessions from Quebec.

Furthermore, if the day comes when Quebecers do hold a successful referendum -- and this could happen -- we will be prepared for the next step, knowing we have a future together as Canadians. Separation can be done peacefully and efficiently with a positive objective in mind for both sides.
It is not going to be easy to get ourselves believing in a Canada of nine provinces and three territories. We are carrying a lot of baggage. For 30 years we have been told about our obligation to correct past injustices; about two founding nations; about learning French for national unity; about the fragility of francophone society; and above all about the impending breakup of our country and the terrible things that might happen to us.

The main purpose of my book is to unpack that baggage and demonstrate that, without Quebec, we're still OK as Canadians. As just one example, there will be no hole created, separating Atlantic Canada from the rest of our country -- unless you want to believe that British Columbia is a hole separating Alaska from the rest of the United States. In fact there are no political or geographic barriers of any kind in our way. Canada is a state of mind; an understanding, a belief in our shared values, a question of will.

Some people have asked me if, in writing Building A Better Canada Without Quebec I'm speaking as a Canadian or as a Quebecer. I'm speaking as a Canadian, my country is Canada, and for me Quebec is a province of Canada. I feel uncomfortable being asked to choose between Quebec and Canada -- I've personally spent many years trying to find a way to reconcile the two. But if I am forced to choose -- and I think it's now time that we should choose -- then my first political loyalty is to Canada.

I have also been asked where I would live if Quebec were to separate. I would continue to live in Quebec -- as a Canadian citizen.

There is nothing unusual in this. I have two daughters, Canadian citizens, who have been living for many years in the United States and intend to remain there, which doesn't mean they support George W. Bush. There's a lot more to life than politics.

My home is in Quebec -- friends, familiar sights and sounds are here. This is a nice place to live now, and I'm confident that an independent Quebec would still be a nice place to live.

Quebec has already left Canada. Its name still appears on the door and it sends somebody around regularly to pick up cheques. But Quebecers don't live here any more.

It's time for Canada to move on.

Reed Scowen, a former member of the Quebec legislature and adviser to Robert Bourassa, has been involved full-time in the Quebec-Canada struggle, in Quebec, for nearly 30 years. He is the author of Time To Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada Without Quebec.
E-mail: scowen@citenet.net


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